“Pop Spirituality” And The “Nation Of Heretics”

Good people, but in need of serious catechesis.


Interesting article about a book from a NY Times journalist, Ross Douthat.  The book examines the way Protestant denominations have changed and “adapted” their message to the “challenges” posed by increasing secularism. The author is a Catholic convert, and from what I can see the exam of the convenient “variations” of Protestant mainstream culture is a clear reference to the Church which has the truth whole, rather than selectively chosen among the flavours of the age. I would like to add here a couple of considerations of my own, due to my personal experience.

As a European, a couple of things strike me of the American society: a) the pervasiveness of religion, obviously at a more or less deep level, and b) the “New Protestantism” of some of its more popular preachers; say, the Joel Osteens of the world.

As to the first phenomenon, as a European you can’t avoid noticing the number of people who publicly put Christianity in the centre of their existence. This doesn’t happen by us, in the sense that in traditional Catholic countries this would sound extremely strange (you don’t say “I am a Christian mother” in Italy; in a sense, everyone is or think she is; much less would you hear of people “meeting Jesus”, or the like) and in traditionally Protestant countries like the Netherlands or the United Kingdom Christianity is considered almost like a private weakness of one, which can be mentioned only if no one in the company is offended. A bit like saying “I like smoking”, or “I am a fox hunt supporter”. If my American readers thinks we are in a bad way, yes, we are.

As to the second, a striking difference with Europe is the presence of these “selective Christians” who, whilst probably sincere and intentioned to live authentic Christian lives, end up with a warped message. I do understand it is important to have an optimistic outlook and to tackle life with self-confidence and a healthy fighting spirit; but if you listen to one or two of these TV preachers you soon notice there is something missing: a proper consideration of the “bad news”, of the vale of tears, of the reality of suffering, and of its redeeming value. The exaggerate attention given to the “health and wealth” message (nothing wrong with either, of course) will,from what I have seen, still  be inserted into a proper Christian context (teaching one the importance of reacting in a Christian way to suffering), but it still ends up being (for a Catholic) strangely and unnaturally unbalanced, as you will very soon notice if you listen to any one of them for even just half an hour.

Don’t get me wrong: I am fully persuaded these heretics are infinitely more Christian than our Archbishop Vincent Nichols, or the worst among our progressive priests. I also think most of them are sincere in their intentions, and are trying to do the best they can within the erroneous Christian frame they find around them. Moreover, I wonder how could they be attracted to Catholicism when for decades the work of US Catholic bishops has been focused more on social justice issues than on transmission of Catholic Truth. Still, it is in my eyes evident this kind of Christianity is very unbalanced. It is, so to speak, like being told from now on you should only eat chocolate, because it tastes so good. 

For this reason, the now numerous attempts of rich Protestant organisations to conquer the, erm, rich Italian market have always failed. Whilst the protestantised Anglo-Saxon Catholics may easily succumb to the lure of the “health and wealth” prophets (apparently, a widespread phenomenon in the United States, probably due to the lack of Christian context their find in their own Catholic parish, and the total ignorance of the value and significance of the Catholic Mass), Southern European Catholics, solidly rooted in the robust common sense of a religion which still permeates their entire culture, easily smells the rat and refuses to buy the new “product”.

Having said all that, the success of these preachers even among Catholics is a clear indication of the dismal failure of the US clergy to transmit Catholic values to their flock.  This is what happens when proper instruction is neglected for decades in favour of kindergarten tales about the importance of “rejoicing” and saying hello to your neighbour.

God willing, this is about to change.








Posted on May 7, 2012, in Catholicism. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on “Pop Spirituality” And The “Nation Of Heretics”.

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